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Sunday, September 18, 2016

When Your Writing Makes A Difference




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I have had magical things happen because of my writing – columns printed in college textbooks; awards; appearing on numerous t.v. programs; testifying before the Senate as a guest of Senator Edward Kennedy.....

All those were wonderful experiences but I think getting to know John and Andrew Scott would top my list of treasured writing memories.

I received a call from the Russell’s, who’d found a bundle of letters in their garage attic – letters that had been forgotten by the family since the early days of the Civil War. There were 50 or so of them, in excellent condition, spanning the years 1861 through 1864.

The first letters were between John Calvin Scott, 18 years old, and his mother, Mary Ann Adams. John had gone to live with relatives and attend school in Ohio. In a letter to his younger brother, Andrew, he makes the first mention of the civil war, “there are 2700 men in Mansfield now. They have marching orders next Tuesday.”

On August 25, 1862, John writes the letter his mother must have dreaded. He has joined the Army, although he’d promised her he wouldn’t. He makes an impassioned plea for understanding.

“We are all conscious that our glorious government is in danger of being overthrown by the most wicked set of men that ever existed on the face of the Globe...” John said that if Americans did not rally to the cause, it would be said that “Liberty rose and here Liberty fell in the short space of 86 years.”

It is difficult to believe that John is the product of a rural schoolhouse in Somerset, Indiana. His spelling is perfect, as is his grammar, and his penmanship is elegant, even when writing beside a campfire.

On October 22, 1862, he wrote that they just gotten paid – a $50 township bounty and $27 from the federal government. 

John spent his 20th birthday in the Vanburens Hospital in Louisiana. By now, war had lost its allure. “It is possible, Mother, that I have spent twenty years in this vile, this sinful world?...Perhaps I shall never live to see another birthday.”

That was the last letter from John but in September Mary Ann hears from her sister-in-law in Ohio – “sorry to hear that Andrew had volunteered to go help put down this wicked rebellion and was sick. Well, poor fellow, he had better die at home as away thare among strangers as did his dear brother.”

Now the communications from Andrew begin. He has always seemed to be the more carefree brother and Mary Ann seems to worry more that he will be led into wickedness by the temptations of camp life.

He writes from “a camp near Granville, Tenn” and tells his stepfather about going to a field of corn husks and taking it to the mill and grinding it to make mush which they eat without salt or milk.

Later, Andrew is in the Cumberland Gap and is sick with the ague. By January of 1864, he’s in the “hospittle” in Knoxville, Tenn. “I have had the diarrhea so long that I am weak and poor as a snake.”

Andrew  died there on February 8, 1864. John had died on June 28, 1863 in the Jeffersonville (MO) Barracks.

I fell in love with these two boys through their letters. They were smart and sweet and funny. When I discovered where the Niconza Baptist Church was, the minister there was kind enough to let me research their old records. I was able to locate both the Scott boys’ worn headstones.


The Historical Society later erected a monument to recognize them as a result of my columns. John and Andrew’s lives had been obliterated by time. Helping to resurrect their memories is one of my most satisfying achievements as a writer.

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